yesterday i spent the day wandering the old city of damascus. today, i went to quneitra. quneitra is considered to be part of the golan heights which was captured by the israelis during the 1973 war. while the israelis still control the rest of golan, the area around qunietra was regained by the syrians after henry kissinger negotiated a cease fire that involved the israeli army pulling back from 450 square kms of previously occupied territory. the area is now a UN-patrolled region that is technically under syrian control.
entrance into the town is strictly controlled. so i woke up early this morning to go to the syrian ministry of the interior to get a permit. after they issued one, i and a fellow traveler, took a minibus to khan arnabah, a town about 10 kms short of quneitra. from there, we took another minibus, this time accompanied by a syrian intelligence agent (aka "the tour guide") who escorted us around the ruins of the town.
the syrian government has kept the town in its ruined state as a statement about the brutality of the israelis. we (i.e. the fellow traveler ("TFT") and the tour guide) wandered through the wrecked town, past bombed out mosques and machine-gunned schools. it was really interesting talking to the "guide", who knew no english. so i ended up trying to translate for TFT. the full conversation will have to wait for another day, but it was interesting to hear his different take on what otherwise is a familiar story i heard when i was younger. at one point the guide showed the scar on his leg where he was shot in '73. the guide didn't really interfere with our visit much, he wasn't there to keep an eye on us as to make sure we didn't step on any land mines.
the really remarkable thing is both how close we were to the israelis. we could clearly see the green settlements on the side of the mountains. at one point TFT's cell phone beeped. he received a text message which he showed me. "welcome to israel" the message said in english. we were so close his phone switched to their network.
it was also remarkable how close golan is to damascus. it's about 40 miles from the center of town. indeed, at the end of the day, TFT another fellow traveler we picked up, and i climbed mount qassioun, the mountain that towers over damascus to the north. at the top we sat at a restaurant and ate dinner and watched the sun set. across the city, to the far south, i could still see golan.